Returning from Sochi: Athlete Endorsement Deals and Licensing Agreements

Two months ago, the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi finally came to an end and as all 230 athletes returned home, only 28 returned with medals and an even smaller number returned with athlete endorsement deals.

It is not uncommon for winter Olympians to have difficulty attaining athlete endorsement deals. Catching the attention of big name companies often requires a medal or a recognizable face and story. While medaling in the Olympics is obviously incredibly difficult, being recognizable can be equally as tricky. Many Olympic winter sports require equipment that prevents the athlete from being recognizable. For example in sports such as ski jumping, snowboarding, skiing, bobsled, skeleton, and luge, athlete anonymity is compounded because he or she is required to wear items such as goggles, helmets, and facemasks.  

This likely explains (at least partially) why the more exposed athletes, such as figure skater Gracie Gold, left Sochi with a plethora of endorsement opportunities. According to CNN, Gold already has deals set up with Nike, Visa, and United Airlines

Olympic athletes often enter the games as unknown names and many look for ways to catch the attention of major companies. Being charismatic and winning a medal alone may lead to athlete endorsement deals. However, many athletes proactively connect with companies by utilizing social media.

Being active on social media is a crucial habit of a marketable athlete. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) restricts the content of what an athlete can post. No participant or other accredited person, such as coaches or trainer, is permitted to record audio or video footage of the Olympics due to copyright laws. Olympians looking to attract attention through Instagram or Vine videos must look for other ways to self promote and attract endorsement opportunities and company attention.

Bobsled athlete Steven Langton and skeleton athlete John Daly, began video blogging prior to the Sochi Olympics as a way to expose themselves and break through the inherent anonymity created by wearing helmets and face shields.  Unfortunately,  while in Sochi, Langton and Daly were prevented from continuing their video blog.

In addition, IOC rules prohibit any sponsored athletes from posting about brands without written approval. The rules state, “Social media activity by Participants and Other Accredited Persons during the period of the Olympic Games should be undertaken for the purposes of sharing their experiences and communicating with their friends, family and supporters and not for commercial and/or advertising purposes.”  You can find the IOC social media guidelines here.

These rules only make it more difficult for Olympic athletes to attract and attain sponsors.

Despite the obstacles many athletes face when attempting to connect with brands and in seeking athlete endorsement deals, the less well known athletes manage to leave (or shortly after returning from) the Olympics with athlete endorsement deals. From a legal perspective, when an athlete inks an athlete endorsement deal he or she is signing a licensing agreement.  A licensing agreement gives a company the legal right (permission) to use an athlete’s name, likeness, image or logo.  Each licensing agreement and athlete endorsement deal are unique, and the rights and obligations for both the athlete and the company can vary a great deal.

Obtaining a post-Olympic athlete endorsement deal may be difficult, but should an athlete be fortunate to attract and acquire an athlete endorsement deal from a famous brand or the up-start company, it is crucial to know the parts of the agreement and what each section entails.

We will examine athlete endorsements deals and licensing agreements more in depth over the next two weeks.

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